Reverse Logistics Today Blog

The exponential growth of technologies is something we’re witnessing on a daily basis, and it offers unique opportunities to maximize business productivity – maybe not the most surprising of assessments, but an important one nonetheless!

New technologies mean new tools, and new tools mean new ways to optimize your business processes. The inundation of new processes may make it difficult to choose the right one; by taking the proper steps before implementing a strategy, you mitigate the risk of wasted resources.

Market Research

Start with market research. Now, market research can be a malleable definition – some may decide to perform little more than a Google search. But for those who are truly serious about market research – identifying trends, recognizing target markets, analyzing customer experience, exploring industry forecasts – the process is both critically important and time-consuming.

Utilizing educational resources online like eBooks, whitepapers, blogs, webinars, is one way to build your knowledge foundation. This often means subscribing to journals and scouring the wealth of information for key findings that are relevant to your business. It’s a worthy cause, without question, but it can be painstaking.

Another, less time-consuming, way to perform market research is to seek the assistance of a business consultant or advisory group. These groups are excellent resources because they are tapped into a massive community that is literally teeming with new tools from tried-and-true to cutting-edge. Business consultants may have an inside track on case studies, special access to reports, and an extensive network – without you needing to do the work.

Best Practices

Implementing a new tactic can be daunting, but utilizing Best Practices guides is a good way to know you’re on the right track. Of course, industrial Best Practices are fantastic jump-off points, but individual best practices need to be tweaked to reflect your business. A brave proposition at best, customizing your own “Best Practices” is something that is best done in coordination with a professional.

 Fortunately, the number of resources on Best Practices in essentially every industry is truly staggering. The real benefit of utilizing Best Practices is the fact that these methods have been PROVEN successful. Identifying industry leaders and comparing your performance to theirs enables you to eliminate the guesswork in planning a strategy…if, of course, you benchmark properly.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking must not be – yet often is – underestimated. But truth be told, implementing a new tool without a comprehensive benchmarking report is like starting a game without the pieces! Benchmarking is good for multiple reasons, but I’ll discuss two here.

First, benchmarking is a perfect way to customize strategies based on proven industry best practices. Having a comprehensive analysis will enable you to chart a plan of action complete with achievable goals, realistic deadlines, and responsiveness to market trends. In short, knowing where you are will help you to figure out where you’re headed. Blind decision-making rarely works out well for any party.

Second, it is absolutely crucial to establish a starting point before implementing a new tool. If you’ve got no indication of where you are, like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, you have no indication of where you’re going. Use benchmark reports to set a baseline, and constantly analyze your new metrics against that start point. Without a comprehensive report, you will be missing out on incredible opportunities to improve your productivity and overall operations.

But where’s the proof it’s working? Quantifying the improvements may seem stressful…but have no fear – statistics are here!

In a recent survey we conducted, we asked respondents – 71% of whom identified themselves as OEMs – what improvements they saw with their service metrics when utilizing KM tools. Table 1 shows a bit of what we learned:

Statistics show marked improvement of Field Service Metrics when using Knowledge Management tools.

Knowledge Management tools can clearly offer significant improvement in service performance metrics. I’d say that’s a good argument for adding KM to your SLM optimization toolkit. Would you agree?

Possible Solutions for Assessing Fault in Returned Merchandise

In my previous post, I discussed my panel-moderation at the Reverse Logistics and Sustainability Council Conference in Atlanta. I mentioned that optimizing the returns process could translate to savings for the OEM in regards to product testing, ‘No Fault Found’ and repair/refurbishment. Diligent readers may even recall my assessment that when compounded, these savings can ultimately be passed to the retailers and consumers by lowering product costs. And, finally, I noted that this week I would have a post with a few of the potential solutions to the NFF debacle, and that you should stick around to find out more. I’m glad you did. Welcome back!

First, let me just say that this is neither a comprehensive list nor a fully-developed game-plan. It is meant to act as a catalyst for discussion – an open invitation for an ongoing brainstorming session in which I hope you’ll all take part. I will very briefly mention a few possible pathways to pursue for optimizing the process of returning, refurbishing, and reselling items.

Can Disclosure Translate to Sympathy?

Disclosure is not such a bad thing. Indeed, consumers may be frustrated with the requirements of the returns process – regardless of the reason for returns. But what if they are informed of who will be receiving the responses and why they are so important? Of course, as the OEM, you’re well aware why these responses are crucial to your reverse logistics bottom line. As the retailer, you know the responses are important, but perhaps are a little less aware of how critical. And as the consumer, all you can see is that you’re being asked questions that will presumably prevent you from a smooth returns process.

Instead of being asked questions without any real indication of why they’re being asked, very brief forms can be created that will elaboratehow their responses will be used for improving future products and offering potential savings to customers in the future. This simple addition may allow customers to feel more needed, more crucial, and more sympathetic to the process, while also showing them that their responses will directly impact their buying processes in the future.

Form the Forms

The customer return process must include some way to acquire the information necessary to indicate why the return is being made. But, of course, it needs to be easy enough that the customer is not inconvenienced by the process. Perhaps a form with the minimum amount of information needed would be a requirement of the return process. It could be filled out quickly and with little effort, but the questions will be specifically-worded and pointed at addressing the issues that the OEM will need to determine fault.

If, for example, the questions could address specific components of the item, the fault diagnosis process would be dwindled by eliminating unnecessary testing on the components that are working fine. Instead of processing each system of a GPS device whose consumer return forms indicate a problem with the speaker, the OEM can now rule out display, connectivity, ports, and all components not related to speaker issues.

Follow Up!

One possible solution could be to develop a follow-up survey that would accompany the return as an opportunity for the customer to provide additional information. It could be done at the customers’ convenience (at home in their pajamas, if they prefer) instead of in-store. Some of the most inconvenient aspects of the returns process (standing in line, waiting for the customer service representative to fill out paperwork regarding the item, verifying or entering your own information, filling out cumbersome forms, etc) can be altogether eliminated if the information was gathered through a follow-up survey. Consumers would be more likely to go into detail on their experiences with the item because they are not holding up a line or being prevented from running the other errands on their To-Do lists.

Make Inconvenience as Convenient as Possible

An online submission or queue could streamline the returns process. Whether through the OEM or the retailer, the end-user could create an “Intent to Return Item” form and submit it to the proper recipient. The form could be included in the item box (similar to the way online retailers provide return shipping labels to provide hassle-free returns to the consumer), or it could be done through the OEM or retailer website.

This could be done easily at home, and the form could prompt the customer for detailed information regarding the item. Instead of standing around in the store waiting in a return line or loitering while filling out forms, the same information can be gathered with less inconvenience to the customer. Similar to the follow-up survey, the consumer will be more likely to delve into detail on why the item is being returned, which will in turn provide the OEM with the necessary information to lessen the resources spent on fault diagnosis.

Rewards

An even more innovative, tech-savvy solution might incorporate entertainment for the customer to lessen the perceived annoyance with the process. Alternately, rewarding the customer for their input in the form of a discount, coupon code, or gift card can incentivize the process without costing exorbitant amounts of money for the OEM or retailer.

So what is it about this reverse logistics component that is such a nightmare? Solutions to this problem are being created, tested, and implemented in industries and individual businesses around the globe, and the difficulty really rears its ugly head in the form of something rather beautiful: uniqueness. Because each industry – and, indeed, each individual business within those industries – is its own unique entity, it’s not easy to choose the right path for large-scale optimization. An optimal (and tentative, and very general) plan may be laid out by the industry as a whole, but must be infinitely tweaked to perform optimally at the individual level.

The first step may even be to screen end-users and retailers – do consumers want retailers to implement procedures to improve the returns process? Do retailers want to test new ways to optimize the process? If so, spend time training personnel to limit the time it takes to troubleshoot problems or even to assess damage to returned items. Even if nothing can be done on the retailer/consumer end of things, there are pathways that can be taken by the OEM to reduce the impact of the reverse logistics pathway.

Reduce Processing Time

By reducing the cycle time of processing returned goods, the OEM may be able to mitigate the time consumed by the process. The sooner NTF is diagnosed and the item is placed into the secondary market, the more quickly the OEM can recover the value of the returned inventory. Easier said than done? Not necessarily: Testing and screening facilities for the OEM can be placed closer to the retailers’ returns centers to reduce transit time.

Optimize Screening Processes

Utilizing innovations to optimize is no new idea. But it’s not always used the way it should be. If OEMs can invest in new, innovative ways to test and screen returned devices – perhaps by incorporating the ability to accommodate multiple devices or using automated testing features.

Technological advances allow for great strides to be made in OEM processes, and using the technology of the Internet may allow OEMs to use online diagnostic tools to assess damage or provide a partial fault diagnosis without transporting and testing the item.

I think it’s safe to say one thing: the current system is costly and cumbersome – or, better put, it’s not optimized. Regardless of the path we choose to improve the efficiency of the fault diagnosis process, it’s a path we must start considering, because it’s a path that is ripe for optimization.

Want to hear more opportunities for optimization? Register for mywebinar!

 

Fault Diagnosis: Why 'No Trouble Found' Means Trouble

In my recent adventure at the RLSC Conference in Atlanta, I had the pleasure of moderating panels of OEMs, retailers, and liquidators on critical issues facing the Reverse Logistics Industry. One topic that received a lot of attention has to do with the issue of of ‘No Trouble Found’ (also known as ‘No Fault Found‘).

For a seemingly positive phrase, ‘No Fault Found’ is actually quite incendiary – and it’s understandable. While finding that a product does not need repair is great news for resellers and refurbishers, it requires extensive (read: expensive) testing by the OEM – wasted expenses if the ultimate assessment is that the product is perfectly fine.

In other words, the trouble is with process of determining that there’s no trouble. The judgment of repair needs repair itself.

The manufacturing process for the OEM requires incredible costs, long before and long after parts are being assembled in the factory. Research and development of prototypes – expensive. Product testing – expensive; correcting design flaws prior to manufacture – expensive; mass production – expensive…and all of these processes need to occur before the item even arrives on the shelf!

Once the item arrives on retailers’ shelves and purchased by consumers, entities from the OEM to the end-user may breathe a collective sigh of relief…but not so fast! When the consumer decides to return the item, a new beast is awakened – an expensive beast which can reek havoc all the way up the chain. A beast named Reverse Logistics.

The reverse logistics pathway is one that’s ripe for optimization: it can be seen on just about every level from Product Returns to Depot Repair through Asset Recovery and everything in between. Regarding the fault of products, each entity is touched in the Reverse Logistics pathway – consumers are inconvenienced by the process of returning. Retailers need to walk a delicate balance of keeping consumers happy, utilizing a “No Hassle” return policy style of operation. OEMs need to determine if there is an integral issue with their returned product, and figure out the next steps! Refurbishment, reselling, liquidation, and recycling are all potential end-steps, but without any input from the consumer or retailer, the OEM is left with only one option: costly testing across all the systems of a product to diagnose fault…then where, when, and why the fault is occurring.

So ‘No Fault Found’ means the OEM just wasted incredible amounts of time and money to test a product that is perfectly fine – resources that could have been reallocated to the process of refurbishment, if necessary, or direct reselling.

The argument of the retailer is a slippery one. At face-value, it does indeed seem like adding more steps to the process of returns would frustrate the customer – something to be avoided at all costs by the retailer. They strive to streamline the process to keep the customer experience a pleasant one. It’s true, consumer experience is a critical value, for customer satisfaction and retailers should strive to improve it. The experience of making a return, however, is not the only element of the consumer experience. The retailer has a number of ways to improve the customer experience, and to focus on only the process of returns as detrimental is to ignore all the other aspects of the customer service experience that can be improved.

To that end, the consumer experience can be improved if the reverse logistics pathway is optimized for retailers and OEMs. With input from the customer or the retailer (or both), the OEM can spend less resources on the process of return testing – perhaps they’ll be given a “hint” on which system is malfunctioning based on customer responses, or they may even be able to bypass the product testing process altogether (if the customer reports are particularly detailed and accurate).

That savings of time and money by the OEM, when compounded, can result in serious profitability – a savings that can ultimately be passed to the retailers and consumers by lowering product costs.

Ultimately, the balance is a difficult one to strike, and it’s clear why the discussion can (and did, in the case of the RLSC conference!) become particularly inflammatory. Stay tuned for a post highlighting a few of the potential solutions for this complex Reverse Logistics issue – from the seemingly intuitive to the inspiringly innovative.  And register for my webinar to learn more about Knowledge Management best practices in the meantime!

MBR for Service & Support: Strategies to Deliver Unparalleled Customer Satisfaction

In my previous post, I discussed how Model-Based Reasoning (MBR) is a useful tool for optimization of Knowledge Management within the SLM process…and if you’d like to hear even more about it, now might be a good time to download my whitepaper on the subject.

MBR is a versatile tool, and it can be utilized in a variety of ways within each realm of SLM, improving both the lives of OEMs and their end-customers. Here, I’d like to discuss the customer satisfaction aspect of Service and Support, because it is such a crucial (and often elusive) piece of the puzzle.

INtangible. IMportant!

One of the key goals of any business must be to improve customer satisfaction. It’s not easy, because it’s an intangible…but its importance is paramount.

Of the many ways customer satisfaction can be less than ideal, inconvenience is toward the top of the list. The added kink for you as the OEM is that your machinery is meant to provide convenience to the customers. It’s why they chose to purchase from you in the first place…so, when the machinery malfunctions, the customers experience double frustration: not only are they left without the machinery that was intended to improve their bottom lines and ease their lives, but the downtime is also costing them productivity and money.

What you need is a smarter strategy for obtaining a fast solution – quick solutions mean rapid repairs, and rapid repairs mean shorter customer downtime. Unfortunately, though, speedy solutions aren’t inherently the key answer. The solution needs to be quick and correct the first time to eliminate the need for repeat service.

Right Solution, Right Away

Service is an expensive business, and it costs more than just money. I’m sure you’re well aware that repeat service costs you time and money, but it also causes customer frustrations and sacrifices their trust in your company.

The best way to be truly confident that a solution is the most comprehensive one is to arrive at it by analyzing all the possible scenarios of malfunction – and this is where MBR shines brightest. While FSE experience is invaluable, it’s neither foolproof nor universally transferable. (After all, that’s one of the biggest complications with Knowledge Management: the expertise required to diagnose and repair a technical issue may come from decades on the job, and even your best teacher-FSE may have a tough time helping your newest rookie to recognize something that he had seen from a mile away.) MBR, however, combines all the best of your FSEs’ expertise, machinery components & data, and possible scenarios to calculate predictable malfunctions…and the optimal solutions for each.

The typical trial-and-error strategy employed by many FSEs achieves solutions slowly, painstakingly..and they may be temporary at best. It’s akin to putting a Band-Aid on a compound fracture: sure, it may feel a bit better to have the wound covered, but the underlying problem hasn’t been fixed, and is probably festering. Temporary solutions mean the machinery will likely malfunction shortly after the pseudo-repair, leaving the customer stranded again. The more frequently the machinery malfunctions, the more frustrated and skeptical the customer becomes. As the OEM, you suddenly seem much less reliable and much less trustworthy in the eyes of the consumer. In a market where other businesses are chomping at the bit to steal your database of customers, the last thing you want to do is nudge those customers into the all-too-open, welcoming arms of your competition.

With the right help to utilize it properly, MBR can help you arrive at a solution that’s the right one first, eliminating the need for repeat service calls and culminating frustrations on your customer. Not only does this make your SLM processes easier, but it also makes your customers’ lives easier.

You have optimal strategies lined up to take care of technical issues as they arise. Your customers appreciate the immediate response and the efficiency of service. Ultimately, they are exceedingly satisfied – and it’s important to remember that you are ultimately responsible for providing remarkable service that leaves your customers, above all else, satisfied. A functional customer is a happy one!

Learn more about how MBR can optimize your business through mywebinar!

Optimization is Spelled M-B-R

Of the complications plaguing corporate implementation of Service Lifetime Management (SLM), Knowledge Management (KM) may in fact be the most frustrating. Knowledge can be amorphous, and as such, it is tempting to call it “intangible”. This fallacy may indeed be the most prohibitive factor in pursuing optimization of KM.

As I discussed in my recent blog post, one of the key shortcomings in KM strategies is the misunderstanding of the causes behind failures. Without the ability to juxtapose and superimpose multiple options to create an evaluation that is both comprehensive and simple, service organizations are left in the lurch – a place no successful corporation wants to be.

While Case-Based Reasoning (CBR) has its benefits, a glaring downfall is its reliance on building a database of malfunction cases and their potential solutions (as seen below). It’s an endeavor that may take years to accomplish – years of customer frustration, of lacking efficiency, and of lost potential.

 

MBR has a 	significant impact on SLM optimization for service organizations.

 

In our world, optimization is king, and CBR is quickly being replaced by a more efficient strategy: Model-Based Reasoning (MBR). The benefits of MBR are astounding. Utilized for SLM optimization, MBR enables service organizations to diagnose problems more effectively than ever before – by calculating operating conditions, machinery subsystems, design, and components/parts, MBR systems can arrive at the optimal solution in a fraction of the time. So what does this mean for service organizations?

Quite simply, it means optimization.

Service technicians often are left to use trial-and-error to diagnose a machine’s malfunction. While the addition of years of experience helps to make this job a bit easier, new machinery and new subsystems mean a learning curve that is difficult to master. With trial-and-error, as the name itself suggests, there is an abundance of downtime, a huge chance of repeat service calls, and no guarantee of a successful solution. To the service technician, this means a major deficit in productivity; to the service organization, it means a serious hit to the bottom line.

A service technician likely spends an exorbitant amount of time to reach the client site, analyze the machine, attempt one or multiple diagnoses, and use trial-and-error for possible solutions using spare parts he or she may have on hand…and likely will leave needing to order a part, wait for it to be shipped from the warehouse, schedule a return appointment, and hope the solution was the correct one.

It’s not difficult to see how this process could be optimized: if the field service engineer (FSE) could presented with a list of possible diagnoses in advance, he could order the necessary part(s) before even reaching the service call. Instead of wasting time with attempting diagnoses on-site and fiddling with spare parts, he could come prepared with the right tools and parts to solve the problem. And by solving the problem the first time, he no longer needs to spend time to order the part, wait to receive it, reschedule an appointment to repair the machinery, or risk a faulty diagnosis that would lead to a repeat service call.

MBR can be used to minimize downtime, maximize efficiency, and increase productivity in many strategies, including Guided Troubleshooting (GTS), Remote Diagnosis (RD), and Design for Service (DFS).

Guided Troubleshooting

Guided Troubleshooting is a lucrative service option, because it minimizes – or even eliminates – the need for service technicians to be called out for certain malfunctions. Because MBR coordinates a number of conditions, features of the machinery, and common complications, its data can be used to develop a detailed guide for customers to diagnose or even solve their machines’ problems.

Many customers often will attempt “quick fixes” on their own prior to contacting the service organization; unfortunately, without experience or the proper knowledge, customers truly have no idea where to start. While a GTS strategy won’t inundate them with all the experience, expertise, and know-how of your best FSE’s, it may just enable them to fix simple malfunctions without wasting the time of your FSE in the process.

Remote Diagnosis

Like GTS solutions, Remote Diagnosis (RD) is a way to eliminate superfluous time spent by FSEs. As the name suggests, Remote Diagnosis is a way for a device’s malfunction to be diagnosed at a remote location. Data is transmitted from the device’s monitoring systems and may be analyzed using a machine-to-machine, machine-to-person, or person-to-person interface.

Instead of wasting time with on-site diagnosis and trial-and-error with spare parts, MBR-based RD allows data to be collected and analyzed succinctly, landing at the optimal solution without any input necessary by the FSE. Now, the FSE is presented with a detailed diagnosis, can get the necessary parts before scheduling a service appointment, and needn’t waste time determining possible solutions. His time has been made more efficient by way of MBR-based RD, and the chance that he will need to return for a repeat service call is drastically diminished.

Design for Service

Design for Service (DFS) is a strategy that attempts to predict possible malfunctions and establish optimal solutions before they are needed; acting as a crystal ball, DFS analyzes problem-system-cause scenarios throughout the operating lifetime of a system and creates detailed strategies for service organizations and their FSEs to utilize to minimize customer downtime.

MBR may find its best role yet with DFS. Instead of relying on past circumstances, customer complaints, and former trends – which, frankly, are changing far too quickly to be optimally reliable – MBR uses complex data and analysis to predict problems and anticipate their solutions. In doing so, a manufacturer or service organization is able to strategize for potential problems to detect them, isolate them, and resolve them faster, better, and cheaper than ever before.

 

In an ever-changing market, those who can optimize are those that will thrive. MBR is a crucial component to developing SLM strategies that benefit service & support, sales, the supply chain, and the end-customer.

Subscribe to the blog and stay tuned for the next installment of our MBR blog series to find out how to optimize your SLM strategy!

Overcoming critical challenges in Knowledge Management

As many of you know, I’ve discussed the importance of optimization in previous blog posts.  In service, optimization usually involves searching multiple solutions or strategies for the best (i.e., least expensive, most accurate) solution in the shortest period of time.  One resource which has been difficult for many service organizations to optimize is Knowledge Management.   By Knowledge, we are referring to the intelligence and expertise required to diagnose and repair a technical problem.

Knowledge is often considered to be an intangible element of service. IT IS NOT.  In many companies, Knowledge is tribal or “referent based” in the sense that it is transmitted from one technician to the other through written (e.g., manuals, notes, etc.) or spoken (i.e., training session) forms.  This could be considered an analogue approach to KM.  As companies become more sophisticated, they often implement digital approaches to KM. Examples range from document management systems at the most basic level to Case Based Reasoning (CBR) on the more advanced.  These tools make the end-user more productive and efficient in problem solving, but they do not necessarily lead to an optimal solution.

CBR offers possible solutions to a problem based on prior history.  As CBR tools are implemented, the technician, more or less, takes a trial-and-error approach to resolving a problem.  It is true that the tools make the problem solving process more efficient and thus make the Technician more productive; however, it does not truly optimize the results as to the best solution for treating the symptom and resolving the problem.  This is because if the machine is experiencing a symptom, the technician must try solution A to see if it resolves the problem. If that doesn’t work the KM suggests another solution. The problem may be resolved for the moment only to reappear a few hours or days later.

The reason why most KM solutions fall short is because, generally speaking, they lack the understanding of the “why” — which can only come from a deeper understanding of the cause-effect relationships between faults and observations in a complex system. Without it, one can only try to pick the nugget empirically, i.e., evaluate and compare a limited number of options sequentially. But, what if we could evaluate multiple options concurrently based on our understanding of the cause-effect relationships?  Would that enable us to pin point the right solution directly in the shortest period of time?  That’s true optimization. And that is available today!

Model Based Reasoning (MBR) is an innovative approach to KM makes use of specific data and observations about the current problem to infer or diagnose the root cause.  It captures all the ways a device can fail in light of observed symptoms and through a series of complex calculations arrives at the optimal solution.  In other words, MBR takes a holistic approach by considering the machine’s design, its components, subsystems, and operating conditions, in order to determine the root cause of the problem in real-time.

Without this type of inference engine, Service Organizations often rely on generalizations based on past experience (example: top resolutions for a specific symptom) and rely on the technician to choose the right solution. MBR diagnoses the root cause using a logical process of elimination or reinforcement of possible causes by efficiently gathering and processing information (guided troubleshooting) much like Sherlock Holmes (or, your smartest FSE) would.

The impact of mobile devices on Reverse Logistics

The company car, laptop and mobile phone have become standard within employee benefits over the last decade. Now increasing numbers of businesses are equipping their employees with tablets to help them work efficiently. The most popular tablet is still the Apple iPad, which launched in 2010. Since then they have become a part of everyday life, from being used by pupils in schools to taking part in business across the world, the tablet has changed the way people have approached technology. The death of the PC has long been noted but it’s happening quicker than ever as tablets – iPads and other Android devices – take up the slack of traditional desktop computers. They’re faster, smarter and more mobile, but are they right for your business?

The trend for BYOD

Bring Your Own Device – or BYOD – has been a buzzword in offices since ‘home’ technology overtook that which was found in offices. Until a couple of years ago, most people would have access to the most up-to-date computers, high-speed broadband and download potential in their workplaces, leaving their creaky old PCs, slow laptops and clunky mobiles at home. But with the advent of what can only be called the ‘Apple invasion’ – the trend for smart phones, tablets and ultra-fast laptops such as the MacBook has seen home technology leap ahead of workplaces, where traditional desktop Dell computers still reign supreme. It’s no surprise then that some employees would prefer to use their own familiar devices, such as MacBooks and iPads already saved with their own preferences, in the workplace. Whether or not to allow this, has been a debate for business owners the world over.

Are employee tablets the best option?

In an effort to regain some control over the situation, employers may feel that the best strategic option is to purchase company tablets for their workforce. While this will entail an initial cost outlay, this will be cheaper overall than replacing all technological resources such as PCs or laptops. Purchasing tablets for employees will have considerable benefits for your workforce, depending on their role. Their mobile functionality, being compact, light and fast, make them good for employees who are often on the go, such as journalists, lfield enginners, lawyers and sales people. Whether at client meetings or on a shop floor, tablets can be incredibly handy for giving product demonstrations to potential customers. Managers who tend to work around the clock may also benefit from being able to have one device they can take from the boardroom to the bedroom, and many will prefer a tablet for ease of use while commuting instead of a clunky laptop. While tablets may not have the full functionality of desktop PCs, there are various apps on the market that are ideal for business. Using word processors, spreadsheet editors and presentation tools, Word documents, Excel sheets and PowerPoint presentations can all be edited on tablets – whether on an iPad or Android devices. There are also specialist bookkeeping apps meaning you can manage your business on the go and have all the data at your fingertips when visiting your accountant. With increased speed – no longer waiting for computers to load – tablets could be a good choice for your employees to help them do their jobs more efficiently and productively. By investing in tablets, they will see that you are investing in them and value their time, and this can improve employee motivation and satisfaction.

Considerations

Despite the obvious benefits of a hand-held business device, some employers may still be reluctant to invest in tablets for their workforce. As with concerns over employees “working” from home – and whether they’re doing just that – allowing ease of access to confidential, corporate material outside of the office can seem like a gamble. There’s the issue of security, both of the data and the device itself, for the inevitable ‘left on a train’ situation. As well as using a passcode to enter the device, any documents and email accounts should be protected by passwords to prevent misuse. It’s also important to take out sufficient insurance so that you can replace your devices quickly and easily. This will also depend on whether the company or the employee owns the device – if it’s the latter ensure that they have their own insurance in place. Similarly if devices need to be repaired or serviced, then this will need to be arranged between your business and the employee, particularly if they have personal data stored on the device. While Apple might be the obvious choice for repairing iPads, there are a number of options on the market. The most important aspect of business device repair is ensuring this is carried out by a qualified professional, who can be trusted with any confidential information they encounter on the device, while providing a secure and swift service to get your employees back on the road. What you don’t want is your employee taking their device to a ‘man they know’ to get a quick fix. You may be able to use your current IT contacts for device repair, as some savvy companies which traditionally fixed desktop computers will now also offer tablet repair. While there are plenty of traditional technicians around still happy to tinker with a hard drive, forward-thinking repair firms have retrained their staff to offer quality iPad repair, for example fixing broken screens and other common issues.

If investing in employee devices, you will also need to consider some cloud back-up on your server to protect all the data on the devices so that valuable work is not lost. There may also be additional costs, for example for additional keyboards if needed and to provide internet connectivity if this isn’t already provided by your existing telecoms provider. The content and apps downloaded on a company iPad can be controlled with a recommended mobile device management (MDM) system. Apple offers its own MDM program which is designed to manage a fleet of devices, but there are others available for Android models.

Advancements in Reverse Logistics: A new era of Liquidation

The Liquidation market has evolved significantly over the last decade. It has transformed from one that was based purely on relationships between buyers and sellers, and the price at which the inventory could be bought and sold, to one that relies on much more strategic and sophisticated decisions regarding the optimization of excess inventory. As a result, Retailers and Manufacturers are faced with new and better options for recovering value within distressed assets.  A new era of liquidation has emerged that is characterized by the following developments:

  • Greater reliance on information technology: Best practice Liquidation vendors (e.g., LSIOptoroB-Stock Solutions, etc.) have turned toward information systems to manage inventory, facilitate transactions, and analyze purchasing trends.   This is evidence through the deployment of home grown and off the shelf inventory management systems, e-commerce platforms, price optimization algorithms, and business analytics.
  • Trend toward self-service liquidation models:  Instead of shipping distressed inventory from the store to a return center and then to a 3rd Party Liquidator, retailers and manufacturers (i.e., suppliers) are now opting for self-service auction models.  These Information Technology centric solutions reduce logistical handling fees and transportation costs by enabling retailers and manufacturers sell products directly from their own or 3PL operated return center warehouses.  Furthermore, they enable the retailer/manufacturer to sell products at a higher price by cutting out the middle man.
  • Suppliers are now champing secondary channels:   Suppliers now view Liquidation providers as strategic partners in building their brand.   They realize that liquidation plays a critical role in getting their products in the hands of a price conscious consumers.  In fact, many retailers and manufacturers have chosen to brand the liquidation platforms that are managed by 3rd Party providers. As a result, liquidated products can be sold at a premium price.
  •  Suppliers want options:  Liquidation is no longer a one size fits all business. It is no longer about selling products to the highest bidder.  Instead, the focus is on optimization of asset flows within the secondary market.  This means that retailers and manufacturers are looking for flexibility in terms of to whom, how, and where the products are sold.  As a result, suppliers often turn to their liquidation vendors to operate B2B and B2C liquidation platforms in parallel.   In fact, it is also likely that the supplier will utilize multiple liquidation vendors depending on the category of product being sold.  Taking this one step further, it is also possible that a B2B liquidation vendor may be instructed by the supplier to release a portion of the inventory on hand to a competing B2C vendor.   By creating an environment of “coopetition”, suppliers can maximize returns and minimize risks.

Key Takeaways

In this new era of liquidation, suppliers require their vendors to function as trusted business partners.  This requires vendors to possess strong capabilities in the areas of I.T. management, quality control, e-commerce, demand generation, operational excellence, and customer service.  Vendors with a strong software and services orientation to liquidation will gain a competitive advantage in this new era.  On the other side of the equation, suppliers are now taking a more strategic approach to the management of their liquidation channels. Decisions regarding liquidation strategies and selection of vendors are gaining more visibility at the C-level within suppliers’ organizations.   Indeed, suppliers must continually seek to optimize the flow and value of goods in their reverse logistics supply chains while continuing to build and maintain the value of their brand.  This requires ongoing trade-off analysis between various mode and models of liquidation. While relationships are important, decisions about liquidation need to be made based on what’s best for the business at the corporate level not just on what’s most expedient at a divisional or departmental level within the supply chain.

To learn more about Liquidation industry trends and best practices contact us at info@blumberg-advisor.com.

Key Concepts In Service Management – Optimization

This video blog explains how optimization works in theory and describes how the concepts are applied to Service Lifecycle Management (SLM). We ‘d love to get your feedback. What did you learn? How will you use these concepts? Please post your comments below.

For more information on how we can help you optimization the productivity, effeciency, and qaulity of your Aftermarket Service and Reverse Logistics Supply Chain contact us at info@blumberg-advisor.com or call 855-643-9060.

Factoring staff loyalty into your strategy

Staff morale can be a major player in the efficient running and profitability of any company. While we often think about front line staff such as customer service agens and the impact on our customer base of their interactions with our clients, creating a pro-active and positive environment for all staff brings its rewards.

The Chain of Command

The morale of any organization depends in the first instance on the top tier management. Where there is an ethos of appreciation and acknowledgement that staff are valued and significant, this trickles down through the chain of management and reflects in relations between middle and lower management and staff. The tiers of management which are in direct contact with the staff will take their cue from the signals they are given by their managers; so it is essential for the correct signals to be given from the top.

Listening to Your Staff

One of the biggest complaints in the work force of many companies is that the opinions of the staff do not count and that they are not listened to. Finding out what makes the workforce tick; what they think of current working practices or staff facilities and how they think the work environment could be improved is a huge step forward in ensuring that you are all working on the same side. Putting into place a clear communication channel will give the work force confidence that management are interested in their feedback and do take their viewpoint into consideration.

Of course listening is only one step in the strategy. Listening without auctioning will soon lead to disenfranchisement on the part of the staff as they realize that management are only paying lip service to their participation in how the company functions. While not all suggestions or issues raised are likely to be viable or feasible, there are certainly going to be some which will improve the operational status of the organization, while others will generate a great deal of good will towards the company from the staff.

That good will has incredible value. The positive environment engendered by responding to staff views creates a momentum all its own. Changes and adaptations in working practices which might previously have been met with stubborn resistance and aversion are far more likely to be met with, if not open arms, then a willingness to work with the management as they continue with streamlining and refining business efficiency.

Rewards and Incentives

There is little doubt that reward and incentive schemes work and work well as long as they are properly constructed and administered. A good incentive scheme will reduce staff turnover and reduce redundancies; as well as increasing customer satisfaction and staff morale. By reviewing company performance, areas where the company needs to perform better can be identified as targets for incentivizing staff. Trying to initiate too many changes too quickly will produce resistance and few results; so constructing a realistic plan is a good idea. Some areas which almost inevitably flag up are timekeeping, service quality and sales goals. Identifying the right rewards to offer the staff will make the difference between the scheme working or failing. Find out what will motivate the staff and develop a rewards program based on the information gathered. Don’t under-reward as this will simply demonstrate to the staff that you place a low value on their contribution.

Ensure that the goals you set are realistic and based on what can be achieved within a given timeframe. It is counter-productive to ask staff to achieve a goal within, say, 3 months when realistically it would take 6 months. Setting an easily attained target at the outset of the program will motivate people to achieve the objective and they will see early results to their efforts. Intermixing shorter term, easier targets with longer term complex ones will ensure that the movement and motivation which has been stimulated will continue. Make sure also that the structure of the rewards program is clearly understandable and fair. Input from the staff will provide plenty of material to construct a system which works for both management, staff and company profitability.

There is little doubt that having a loyal and committed work force creates a positive working environment. New staff coming into the company meet a welcoming and supportive structure; one which encourages inclusivity and a good work ethic and this impacts beneficially on both staff retention and productivity.